ISTANBUL, Turkey – A judge ejected a Syrian Al Qaeda suspect from his courtroom Monday for contempt of court after the alleged terror mastermind, who was caught when explosives went off in his hide-out, refused to stand up on the opening day of his trial.
The secretive Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa, who used fake IDs and aliases even with his Al Qaeda contacts and had cosmetic surgery to conceal his features, is charged with trying to overthrow Turkey 's secular government, prosecutors said.
He is on trial with 72 other suspected Al Qaeda militants for alleged involvement in a series of homicide bombings that killed 58 people in Istanbul in 2003.
Al-Saqa was captured with suspected accomplice Hamid Obysi in August when an alleged plot to attack Israeli cruise ships failed after an accidental explosion forced them to flee a safe house in the southern port of Antalya. Obysi, a Syrian, is also on trial but did not attend Monday's hearing because he was reported to be sick.
Judge Zafer Baskurt asked al-Saqa several times to stand up in court. "My beliefs prevent me from standing in front of people like you," al-Saqa told the judge, who ordered him thrown out.
"I fought a jihad, I killed Americans, I will not stand up before you!" shouted al-Saqa, who chanted verses of the Koran as soldiers escorted him out.
Baskurt also ordered a spectator detained for shouting in support of al-Saqa.
Earlier, the judge asked lawyer Osman Karahan — recently charged with aiding and abetting a terrorist organization for allegedly giving money to one of his clients — to leave the courtroom, saying he was barred from the case for one year. Karahan, who represents 15 of the 72 suspects including al-Saqa, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
The court then went on with the trial, formally joining al-Saqa's case with those of the 72 other suspects. It also released five of the 31 jailed suspects pending the conclusion of the trial, and adjourned until May 22.
Prosecutors claimed that Usama bin Laden personally ordered al-Saqa, 32, to carry out terrorist attacks in this predominantly Muslim and pro-Western country.
Al-Saqa is accused of serving as a point man between Al Qaeda and homegrown militants behind the November 2003 bombings, which destroyed a British bank, the British Consulate and two synagogues, an indictment said. It said al-Saqa gave the Turkish militants about $170,000.
Prosecutors have demanded life in prison for al-Saqa, calling him "a high-level al-Qaida official with a special mission."
Al-Saqa has already been sentenced in absentia by Jordan in 2002, along with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged Al Qaeda leader in Iraq, for a failed plot to attack Americans and Israelis in Jordan with poison gas during millennium celebrations.
Despite this conviction, al-Saqa was not well-known in international intelligence circles until recently. Authorities believe he was a key Al Qaeda operative in Turkey and the Middle East.
During his interrogation, he admitted to failed plans to make a bomb and stage an attack on Israeli tourist ships, police said. The plot against one cruise ship was financed by Taliban chief Mullah Omar, who allegedly gave him $50,000 to carry out attacks against Israeli targets in his name, al-Saqa reportedly told interrogators.
Two Turkish suspects interrogated by Turkish, U.S. and British authorities at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said al-Saqa served as a connection between the Istanbul bombers and Al Qaeda.
Al-Saqa, who is implicated in the execution of two Turkish truck drivers by insurgents in Iraq, was also accused of bomb-making and smuggling explosives into Turkey. The Syrian also said he arranged for Turkish militants to meet with al-Zarqawi in Iraq to join the insurgency, the indictment said.